The Chimpanzee Conservation Center

Chimpanzee Conservation Center

Located in Guinea, West Africa, within the Haut Niger National Park, the Chimpanzee Conservation Center (CCC) is a sanctuary established in 1997 to address increasing declines in chimpanzee populations due to the pet trade.

The three main goals of the CCC are to:

  • Rescue orphaned chimpanzees confiscated by the Guinean government, and provide the best living conditions.
  • Release chimpanzees, when possible, to the wild after completion of their rehabilitation process (at least 10 years).
  • Educate the local and international community regarding the threats faced by wild chimpanzee populations and raise awareness to prevent illegal wildlife trafficking.

Sheltering and rehabilitating chimpanzees

The CCC rehabilitates orphaned chimpanzees who are victims of the pet trade and who’s mothers and often other group members have been killed for bushmeat.  Upon arrival at CCC, chimpanzees often have serious health conditions that need around the clock care. They most often suffer from skin and respiratory diseases, psychological disorders related to abuse and captivity as well as malnutrition. After a period of quarantine, the chimpanzees are integrated with a group of their peers.

When Nelson arrived in 2005, he suffered from malnutrition and psychological trauma

Nelson 4 years after.

Upon arrival, chimpanzees often have serious health conditions that need 24-hour care and monitoring. The most common conditions include: skin and respiratory diseases, malnutrition and psychological disorders related to abuse and captivity. After the 3 months mandatory quarantine, the chimpanzees are provided with the best possible living conditions that meet their age-appropriate needs. As chimpanzees grow older and integrate into peer groups, human contact is reduced in preparation for release back in to the wild, when possible.

Ama and Kirikou’s seizure in the middle of scrap and trash

As new members have often had little interaction with their conspecifics, they have not acquired the basic social and community skills of their peers. Rehabilitation is focused on “re-wilding,” which includes learning how to climb, forage, make nests and communicate with their peers. Without these skills, it would be unlikely that the chimpanzees would survive in the wild.

Released chimpanzees

Once released, in the Haut Niger National Park, the chimpanzees rarely see the CCC staff. While tourism is allowed within the park, the remote location and difficult access to the CCC sanctuary significantly limits the number of visitors per year. The released chimpanzees can’t be viewed by visitors.

One of the main goals of the CCC is to, when possible, release adult chimpanzees back into the wild. For the first several years of rehabilitation, orphaned chimpanzees go on daily bush outings accompanied by volunteers and a keeper. They are able to freely climb trees and learn how to forage for food and socially interact. While at the CCC, the older chimpanzees have access to large and secured enclosures where they are also able to climb trees, forage and socialize. While the release of chimpanzees is difficult and controversial, organizations such as the association HELP Congo have proven successful by releasing more than thirty chimpanzees since 1996, many which have given birth in the wild. Veterinary tests are preformed prior to release to prevent the spread of potential diseases and other criteria are followed, as releases must meet the standards set by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

On June 27, 2008, after many years of preparation, the CCC released its first group of chimpanzees in the Haut Niger National Park of Upper Niger. Another released took place in 2010 with the integration of two additional females with one offspring. Female chimpanzees are equipped with VHF collars and males with Argos-VHF, which allows daily remote monitoring via telemetry and GPS. The presence of CCCstaff close to the release site ensures protection of the released group and other wildlife in the area. So far, the released chimpanzees have established their territory. A few females have been seen emigrating with wild chimpanzee communities, engaging in positive social interactions, and have given birth to 5 babies. As one of the objectives for the release of chimpanzees is to reinforce the wild chimpanzee population, interactions observed between the wild population and the released chimpanzees are encouraging!

Radio tracking of released chimpanzees equipped with radio collars

Raising awareness

Since 2004, in efforts to contribute to the conservation of chimpanzees via education, the CCC has been conducting campaigns to inform the local populations about the goals and daily work at the center. Conferences and discussions are organized in villages in the vicinity of the Haut Niger National Park and information is distributed via fliers, posters and stickers. Additionally, radio programs in local languages are broadcast throughout the country. Educational topics have included, the importance of chimpanzee conservation and protection; awareness around illegal logging and poaching in the Park; and the importance of the park’s conservation. As outreach has been well received, new campaigns are being organized and conducted on a regular basis.

Sensitizatiion schools

Since 2007, the project has also been working more closely with Guinean Government officials and local park authorities to protect the Haut-Niger National Park and the wild chimpanzees that reside within its vicinity.